The manorial history of Brailsford is a long and distinguished one going back to the period of the Norman conquest. Then the manorial estate was held by one Elfin (as Domesday Book renders his name) or Aelfwine, clearly a man of Saxon descent. In 1086 he held not only Brailsford but also Thurvaston, Osmaston-by-Ashbourne, Culland and Bupton, the latter an estate were the settlement was later deserted and which was divided between Brailsford and Longford. None of these estates were in his hands prior to the conquest, so he must have in some way impressed his Norman masters.
His son, Nicholas, a benefactor to the new priory at Tutbury, seems to have established a house in the manor, although there is no hint of its appearance other than charters attesting to his having a ‘capital mansion’ there. Two generations on his successor also held part of Wingerworth (with its lucrative coal) and had married an heiress who brought him Bradley and Mercaston, too. Various younger sons were settled on these properties – giving rise to the Culland and Osmaston families, amongst various other branches which kept the Brailsford name – but the senior line ended in 1356 when the daughter and heiress of Sir Henry de Brailsford carried the estate to Sir John Basset of Cheadle in Staffordshire. Their son Thomas was described as ‘of Brailsford’, but he, too, left an only daughter and heiress, from whom the estate passed to the Shirleys.
The site of the Brailsfords’ house was presumably on the site of a large moat recorded in the 18th century south east of the former vicarage, all trace of which had vanished entirely by 1949, when a survey failed to locate the least trace of it. As the Brailsfords were knights of the shire and produced Sheriffs of the county (then held in tandem with Nottinghamshire) their house was likely to have been fairly impressive; a two courtyard house of some pretension in all probability but we have, alas, no evidence as to its appearance otherwise. Furthermore, with the death of Thomas Shirley in the early 15th century, the family had no use for the house and it was probably dismantled for its materials, unlike the family’s original home at Shirley nearby which was retained, much reduced, and adapted as a farmhouse.
From then until the 18th century there was no capital mansion at all in Brailsford, bar a couple of neat Georgian village houses, still extant, despite the baleful effects of having to live on the A52. Then in 1771 a local man, William Cox, purchased much of the land in the parish from Washington Shirley, 5th Earl Ferrers, who was keen to raise money to pay for the rebuilding of the family’s main seat at Staunton Harold. When he was 81, old William Cox wrote smugly that ‘I was one month under thirty years of age when I purchased the Brailsford estate.’
His grandfather, also William, had been schoolmaster in the village and tutor to Lord Ferrers, although as Staunton Harold is really quite a long way from Brailsford (in 18th century terms) one has always harboured doubts about this. His son, another William, made his fortune trading flax and hemp, however, which is how the third William managed to buy the estate. He himself had already bought the Virgin’s Inn in Derby Market Place as a town residence (1763) and later established the lead works on the Morledge.
The estate in 1771 contained an old farm house on the site of the present hall SE of the village, which Cox rebuilt in brick in unpretentious and rather old-fashioned Georgian style, and began to improve the estate. His switch from flax and hemp dealing to lead smelting is partly to be explained by his marriage to Mary, daughter of Gilbert Soresby, a successful local lead trader.
Interestingly, William’s niece Margaret Lovatt went to America with her cousin, William’s like-named the second son. The latter founded an import-export business in Virginia whilst she married New England patrician John Cabot Lowell, whose son Francis was a co-founder of the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1820s and, dying before matters had been completed, gave his name to it, in lieu of ‘New Derby’ as planned). It was set up on his behalf by Kirk Boott II, whose Derby connections are well known.
In 1795, the elder son, Edward Soresby Cox (1764-1846), set up home in the Brailsford house and, on marrying Gainsborough heiress Elizabeth Nettleship in 1813, had the house rebuilt and enlarged, although the resulting mansion – the new Brailsford Hall, still owed much to its mid 18th century rebuild; presumably Edward was as careful of his money as his father! Yet the extra room created would have been vital as the couple went on to have a son, William, and five daughters.
William Cox’s original rebuilding had created a two-storey brick house with rusticated lintels and quite a high slate roof, and it faced, like the Farmhouse that preceded it, largely SE. What Leaper did was to create a new range facing the lane of three bays, still two storeys, but each taller with the roof hidden behind a plain coped parapet. The windows were shielded by cast iron sliding jalousies made by Thomas Glover’s foundry in Derby (later Weatherhead & Glover of Duke Street).
The entrance was placed to the left of the façade, to ensure that the main reception room, entered right from the hall, could be as spacious as possible. This was really a conceit normally confined to town houses where there was a restricted site – one thinks of 36, St. Mary’s Gate, Derby, where the superb saloon occupies the entire façade with an entrance, similarly, to one side. The accepted practice for country villas (as built by Leaper himself) and seats, was a central entrance and a spacious room either side, but it may be that E S Cox, mindful of the relative newness of the house, forbore to knock the lot down and start again.
The Doric portico itself was stone, and was flanked, left, by a single storey wing but with similar fenestration to the rest of this front, so clearly it held some kind of reception room. In fact the photographs taken by Reichard Keene in the 1860s suggest that it was a drawing room with a projecting tripartite bay to the west with sashes to terrace level. The angle between the 1771 house and the new façade was also occupied by a further bay, but containing two superimposed plain sashes (without shutters) indicating lower ceilings and presumably disguising rooms set aside for some more workaday function. The whole of the new wing was covered in Brookhouse’s Roman cement (made from ground alabaster/gypsum on the Morledge at Derby) grooved and painted to resemble ashlared stone work, but with the 1771 part only painted to match.
The grounds were clearly landscaped as a small park but the only clue we get to the quality of the interior is the one of the drawing room, suggesting that the Cox family steered clear of ornamental plaster ceilings, contenting themselves with decoration only on the cornices. They here also dispensed with a dado, went in for floral wallpaper and seem to have re-furnished with furniture inspired by the Great Exhibition, apart from a pair of very refined Regency elbow chairs near the window.
The Richard Keene photograph of a family group standing in the portico seems to depict, left to right: Anne Mrs. Henry Moore Mosse (3rd daughter) holding baby William George, her brother William standing with Mrs. Mosse’s daughter, Anne sophia (later Mrs. Cadman), stood at his feet with Anne’s husband to the right. The date is remarkably early, c 1860.
With the death of William Cox in December 1900, however, his executors, finding no-one amongst his nephews and nieces wishing to live in the house, sold it and much of the estate to the philanthropic George Herbert Strutt of Bridge Hill House, Belper and Makeney House. He decided that Edward Cox’s old house was too much of a hot-potch to live in and, having almost unlimited financial means, promptly had it demolished and replaced by a fairly straightforward Jacobethan mansion designed by his favoured architect Col. Maurice Hunter of Belper, which having been completed was promptly let in 1902 to Herbert Strutt’s friend Col. H C Holland, then the chief constable of the county.
Not long after Strutt’s death in 1928, the house was severely damaged by fire (July 1930), and the replacement was similar, but larger and spikier (also by Hunter). It was sold in 1936 to the Daltons and in 1980 to the Clowes family, who still live in it.
Little or nothing of the Cox family’s short-lived and slightly wayward house, however, survives.